Reasons to sue a landlord
Landlord-tenant laws vary depending on where you live, says Samuel Tamkin, a Chicago-based real estate attorney.
“What’s considered illegal in one state or municipality may not be illegal in another,” Tamkin explains.
That said, there are some instances where it’s typically within a tenants’ rights to pursue a lawsuit. Here are some of the most common reasons to sue your landlord:
- Your landlord is illegally withholding your security deposit. If you’ve fulfilled all of your obligations as a tenant, your landlord must return your security deposit when your lease ends and you move out. You may also be able to sue your landlord if he fails to follow your area’s security deposit laws, which stipulate requirements such as the maximum deposit allowed and where the money must be held during the lease.
- The apartment becomes uninhabitable. If you can’t live in the property due to health or safety risks—such as the result of a major flood, rat infestation, or storm damage—the apartment could be considered uninhabitable by law, which would require your landlord to make necessary repairs and provide you with temporary housing. Unfortunately, “there is a lot of gray area,” Tamkin says. For instance, “if there is a roach problem but it can be treated by an exterminator, it may not be uninhabitable.”
- You’re injured while on the premises. Since the landlord is typically responsible for making repairs, you may have a valid case if you suffer an injury while on the property, depending on the circumstances. “If you are injured as a result of a piece of your ceiling falling and hitting you, and the landlord knew of the problem but failed to correct it, you may have a strong case,” Tamkin says. However, deliberate negligence on your landlord’s part is key; if you noticed a potential safety problem and failed to notify your landlord, then he may be off the hook.
- Your landlord is violating your right to privacy. As a tenant, you’re entitled to “quiet enjoyment” of your home—meaning your landlord can’t barge in whenever. A landlord is legally allowed to enter a property to make repairs, says Tamkin, “but someone who repeatedly enters a property to see what the tenant is doing for no legal reason could be in violation.”
- Your landlord doesn’t reimburse you for a repair. Home repairs are typically the landlord’s responsibility, Tamkin says. So let’s say you paid for necessary repairs and your landlord agreed to reimburse you. If he reneges, you could sue to get the money. Just make sure you discussed springing for this expense before you pay for it. “Never undertake a repair without notifying your landlord in advance,” Tamkin says.
- You’re unlawfully evicted. If you believe your landlord is trying to evict you illegally, you can sue and try to remain in the property. Furthermore, “if you were wrongfully evicted and incurred moving fees or temporary housing costs because of it, a court can order your landlord to reimburse you for those costs,” Tamkin says.
- You’re a victim of housing discrimination. The Federal Fair Housing Act, which governs housing discrimination, protects tenants from being discriminated against based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status. (Your state may also have additional protected classes.) If you feel you’re a victim of housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which will investigate your claim and enforce legal action when appropriate.